The Arizona Diamondbacks have not sought or received permission from Major League Baseball to talk to any community outside Maricopa County to relocate the team, an MLB spokesman unequivocally told Boomskie on Baseball on Friday.
That should put an end to any public speculation that the franchise is moving to Henderson, Nevada, near Las Vegas, or any other community outside the Phoenix-Scottsdale area.
“They have not sought or received permission to talk outside their current territory,” a spokesman for Commissioner Rob Manfred said in an email response to this ongoing story.
The process to explore such a move would begin with a query to MLB’s executive council, and permission must be granted.
In the end, because of a limited exemption MLB still has from antitrust laws, no franchise can move without a 75% vote of the other 29 owners. There has been one such relocation—the Montreal Expos moving to Washington and becoming the Nationals in 2005—since the Senators shifted to Texas in 1971.
The story broke because emails and conversations last year between Henderson and D-backs officials were obtained through public records and published this month by the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
In contrast, when the Tampa Bay Rays recently wanted to explore playing half of their games in Montreal, owner Stuart Sternberg went through the aforementioned process and was granted permission by Manfred, the executive council and the rest of the owners to determine whether such a plan was even viable.
That didn’t happen with the D-backs, and in any event, it all seems to be much ado about nothing.
“At the end of day, this is where we are, and this is where I want to be,” club president Derrick Hall told a local Phoenix radio station this week.
Hall, as club president, handles the day-to-day business operations of the team. Ken Kendrick is the managing general partner and point person for the ownership group.
Unlike the D-backs, the Rays have a serious ballpark issue in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area that needs to be resolved, although they have an ironclad lease to play in the Tropicana Dome until 2027.
The D-backs have a similar lease to play at Chase Field until 2027, although last year they settled a lawsuit with Maricopa County allowing them to seek building a new ballpark within the county that includes the possibility of leaving their current environs by 2022.
In exchange, the D-backs agreed to take over maintaining nearly 21-year-old Chase Field from Maricopa County. A figure of $187 million in maintanence issues were in dispute.
Since then, the ballclub has installed a new generation artificial turf surface, but hasn’t fixed the out-of-town scoreboards or replaced a traditional time-of-day clock that once hung above the video board in dead center field.
The retractable-roof stadium is certainly serviceable, and the D-backs have been good at visual upkeep, keeping it modernized, clean and attractive.
It seats 48,519, too big for the current baseball environment in which much smaller capacity new ballparks seem to be the norm.
For example, the new ballpark and ballpark district projected to be funded in its entirety by the Oakland A’s at the Howard Terminal site on the Oakland waterfront is slated to seat 32,000.
The most viable plan may be to renovate and retrofit Chase Field to those seating dimensions.
Even so, the D-backs have been exploring building a smaller facility elsewhere in the county as also part of a ballpark district surrounded by a mixed use development of retail and residential housing much like The Battery surrounding SunTrust Park, 10 miles north of Atlanta.
That complex opened two years ago with the price tag of $1.2 billion. Costs have certainly escalated since then, depending on the project and the community in which it’s built.
Where the D-backs are going to come up with that type of money is certainly a big question and the ballclub hasn’t been particularly transparent about the project.
To be sure, it’s undoubtedly not going to include public money. Maricopa County invested $252 million of the total cost of $364 million to build the current facility.
In fact, there was such rancor at the time after the Maricopa County Supervisors approved the project that after her yes vote, Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox was shot in the pelvis by an assailant. She survived, and the shooter, Larry Naman, just left jail after serving a 12-year sentence.
It may be possible that the D-backs wanted word of the interaction with Henderson officials to leak, putting some pressure on Maricopa County to step up and help fund a new stadium project under threat of the franchise leaving.
That’s long been a tried and true method, although Hall denied he took that tact.
“We’re not in a position where we would use it as leverage,” he said. “We never did. That’s why we’ve never said anything about any other city that has been interested, nor were we planning on it. We don’t think that’s fair to anybody here.
“Relationships today are so much better than they were. There were some rough times there a couple years ago and I think we all had to go through that.”
Any deal to move the team out of the county now seems to be dead in the water.
There’s the additional major issue that MLB is not interested in losing the Phoenix area as the 12th largest television market in the country in exchange for Las Vegas, which is 39th.
In 2015, the D-backs extended their regional television contract for 15 years at a reported $1.5 billion.
Yet, the D-backs obviously explored Henderson’s overtures to move. In an e-mail response to a Henderson official last year and published by the Las Vegas newspaper, Hall said:
“Hopefully there is still strong interest there as we go through the MLB motions,” he wrote.
But according to the Commissioner’s office, those “MLB motions” never took place.